Reason # 465 Why They Might Be Giants are Indie Geniuses

#465. TMBG makes brilliant songs on the spot.

Case in point: The Venue Songs. A set of original songs they wrote for each venue they played in during their 2004 tour. Here’s to you John and John!

This one’s for the House of Blues. Question of the day: did this launch the PC guy’s career? :

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Take up the Indie cause – It’s for the children!

We the Indie Music fans of the world have a duty.  The world we’re leaving for our children is in terrible peril! While the media has pumped us full of Save he Whales, Save the O-Zone, and Save the world from the likes of John and Kate, there is a much more threatening evil on our doorstep.

Yes Indie Citizens…I’m talking about carbon copy, teeny-bop, pop.

I’m talking about the Jonas Brothers. I’m talking about Hannah Montana…or Miley Cyrus…or Hannah Montana…oh whatever. I’m talking about The Cheetah Girls! Yes. It’s horrible. And it’s threatening to lead our children down the path of musical starvation, turning them into Star whatever point whatever and KIIS FM  zombies who won’t know the difference between a good song and a radio jingle!

In the same way that my father saved me from Debbie Gibson, Maddonna, Tiffany, Milli Vanilli, and Vanilla Ice with the Beatles…I believe we should all fight the mainstream music maleficence take and introduce our kids to good music. Music that doesn’t feature just 3 power chords. Music that doesn’t feature “jaded” in the lyrics . Yes, music that doesn’t suck.

Let me help get you started. Here are some songs that have gone over like the Berlin Wall on my kids:

  • Mates of State – My Only Offer. My kids love this song. EVERY one of them, ranging from 8 years old to 4, even the 6 month old likes it.
  • Architecture in Helsinki: That Beep: This song has been so requested at our house that I’ve almost had to hide the CD.
  • Of Montreal: Brush, Brush, Brush. Ok, I don’t care that this song is off the soundtrack for the weirdest kids show on TV. Yo Gabba Gabba has the Teletubbies and Poobah beat for psychotic mental trip, and truth be told, I really can’t stomache the show, but this song is cool. And Of Montreal is one of the indie-est Indie bands on the planet.
  • They Might Be Giants. (see video below). You can pick just about anything from John and John. Their music is fun and wacky, and they even do kid music. I’ve actually been listening to their kid stuff for years with my kids, and let me tell you: they sure beat Raffi! In fact, you don’t even have to buy a CD to get your kids started. Go right over to Itunes and subscribe to the Friday Night Family Podcast (or click here to watch it in “syndicate”). Other great TMBG hits your kids will love: “Experimental Film,” “The Mesopotamians,” “Man It’s So Loud in Here,” and even the classic “Birdhouse in Your Soul”. Below is a ditty from their new Kiddie Album.
  • Dan Zane and Friends – Hello. Ok, this guy really IS a kiddie musician, but this song was featured in a recent Coke Ad, and it’s very cool. (sorry, no download link).
  • Dogs Die in Hot Cars – Godhopping. Just a cool song all around. Fast paced, and it talks about children in poor countries…so bonus points for teaching kids social responsibility.
  • 8 1/2 Souvenirs – Happy Feet. This is a great swing outfit. Their stuff is…well…happy.
  • Forro in the Dark – Asa Branca (Featuring David Byrne). Brillian brazilian beats. Used to be a legit free download on music.download.com, I’m sure it still is somewhere.
  • Guster – Amsterdam. Pretty much anything of this album (Let’s Keep it Together), is great. In fact, I think this album is one of the best (if not THE best) indie albums of all time. Yes. I just said that.
  • Oingo Boingo – We Close Our Eyes. Come on, it’s Halloween. I had to include something from Boingo.

What’s In a Voice?

I’ve been thinking about this one for quite some time…music, especially Indie music, is about more than just the music. It’s about the words. It’s about the singer. The genius of Indie is that each band has a distinct personality, that evades the normal “Write about the same thing” nonsense you hear on mainstream radio. For me, good music is about a nice combination of instrumentation AND voice work…In fact, I’ll take a good voice with so-so instrumentation over the opposite. If a song has a boring/horrible singer, I just can’t put up with it, no matter how good the music is. So, here’s my list of my favorite recognizable singing voices, in Letterman-esque descending style:

10. Claude, Anything Box: Raw. Emotional. I love how in one second his voice sounds innocent, the next, wild, untamed, and enraged.

9. Matthew Bellamy, Muse: Does anyone else in music express more emotion when singing? I defy you to find one.

8. Tori Amos: One of my all-time favorite voices. Haunting, simply haunting.

7a. Ryan Miller, Guster: His voice is simple and smooth…and easy to sing-along with, or maybe it’s his songs…

7b. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie: Real is the best word I can come up with for Ben’s voice. It’s just plain real. Like you know him. Like he’s talking to you, rather than singing.

6. Harry Connick Jr. : Ok, deservedly, Harry Connick Jr. deserves to be on the top of this list, hands down. But first of all, he’s not Indie, and second of all…well I can’t think of a 2nd of all.

5. Johnny Boyd, Indigo Swing: (see comments for Connick Jr., Harry). Even more so, tragically, Johnny no longer sings for Indigo Swing. Which is odd…how can a band lose a guy commonly referred to as “The Voice”?

4. Rivers Cuomo, Weezer. Don’t know what it is, but I can’t get over the raw clarity and emotion of Rivers’ voice. My favorite example is on a live session their new song Miss Sweeney.

3. Steven Page/Ed Roberts, Barenaked Ladies: Rarely does a band have one good lead singer, let alone two. Ed is the charismatic voice, the accessible voice in a “You could be my best friend” sort of way. Steve is the powerhouse. If you’ve ever been to a BNL concert, you’d know what I’m talking out. He can simply BELT out some powerful melodies.

2. Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo. Yes, I know the Elf Man left singing on the radio for singing…and orchestrating…on the big screen, but his voice is still one of the very best AND most unique in all of music.

1. John Linell, They Might Be Giants: I love John’s voice. It’s raw. It’s even nasally. But it’s unique, and I can’t help but listen everytime I hear it. I love pointing out John Linell’s voice in obscure instances…like the Dunk’n Doughnuts new commercials, and even on PBS Kids in between shows.

Quick Indie guide to Seeing NY


I believe Indie is not just a fine taste for music…it’s a lifestyle.

So, a little while I got an email from a friend announcing he’d be spending a few days in New York City, and he wanted to know what were the coolest sites to see. I spent two months last summer living and working in Manhattan, and I prided myself on getting around and seeing some of the lesser-known, but definitely worth seeing, sites. In fact, after the two months, my co-workers gushed at how I had seen more stuff in NYC in two months than they had in the years they had lived there. Anyway, here’s what I recommended–my Indie guide to seeing NYC.

Note: These are only a few sites, if you have some good suggestions, add your 2 cents below.

1. The site of the 1964 World’s Fair. A sight that maybe only an avid historian would love…this one has particularly cool meaning for They Might Be Giant’s fans. Not only do they mention the fair in a number of their songs, they filmed the video for Don’t Let’s Start (video below) there. Sadly, the site is fairly run down now…half of it has been taken over as a skate park, and the arena behind me in the picture below has been overrun by a local theater company, which uses it as a junk site.

2. Strawberry Field: The immortal memorial to John Lennon still features plenty of flowers and a steady flow of Lennon music. It’s on the outskirts of Central Park and can be kind of hard to find…but once you find it, you get a “daily double” as just across the street is the hotel where John Lennon was shot.

3. Battery Park: Summer Concert Series. Last year, NY had the best Indie music for FREE at Battery park. I blogged about the spoon concert, below, already. I’ve posted a recording of the concert as well (click on Spoon in the side bar). Definitely worth seeing.

4. Go Meet Rupert. My FAVORITE experience while there…the Hello Deli, just around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater where David Letterman is filmed, is actually a great place to eat…and Rupert is one of the nicest guys around. Right in the middle of orders, he’ll take a picture with you and even wish your dad a happy birthday on your cell phone (ok, that’s what he did for me…I cant imagine he’d have done it if it was busy when I went in). You’ve got to get there early though, the place closes at 4.

5. The NY Cathedrals. In the Cathedrals, of New York and Rome, there is a feeling, that you should just go home, and spend a lifetime, finding out just where that is. Ok, so few may know this Jump Little Children classic, but I’ve always held it as one of my favorites…so when I got to NY, I had to find every cathedral I could. St. Patrick’s is easy to find…but this one right in front of the Juliard* (below) was my favorite.

The LDS Temple is a very nice addition to the NY skyline

*Speaking of the Juliard…10 points goes to the reader who knows the Moxy Fruvous song that mentions the
music school.

So, that’s my quick Indie guide to seeing NY. If you want the main sites, you can probably find them on a quick google search.

The 1st Flans N’ Linnell Brooklyn Ambassadors Award

Named after They Might Be Giant’s two Johns…this award goes to the band with the combination of most original sound and the most effective approach to gettting its name out there and building a relationship with indie fans–otherwise known as Public Relations. TMBG revolutionized going against the grain, bucking the notion that you have to be signed by a major label to build a fan base. From “Dial-a-Song” to following fans lifestyle change and breaking into the kiddie music market.

Ok–enough of the explanation. The first Brooklyn Ambassadors award goes to…

Band of Horses

Ok…so there’s nothing extravagant about this…it’s pretty simple. Not only has Band of Horses gotten its sound out there with commercial gigs and other of the usual indie outlets, the band has offered its BEST songs for free download. Funeral. No One’s Going to Love you. The Great Salt Lake. They offered their very best. Most bands offer a paltry slice of what their tunes…Band of Horses let’s you have the best. I expect great things from this band.

Sometimes, you just like the title

I’ve admitted this before, but I have no special access to new music (I’m working on that one…and any PR people interested…send something along), but I find some of the most interesting music at the Indie Library in my area. Now, I call it the Indie Library, because it has some of the most diverse NEW music…yep, new music. I’ve found the more recognized bands like Interpol, They Might Be Giants, Spoon, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, and others…and then there’s the little known stuff. My most recent find came because I happened to like the name…

Caribou’s new album, Andorra.

I honestly had never heard of them, but I used to live in Barcelona, Spain, and have visited Andorra, and I quite liked it, so I went ahead and picked it up. RealPlayer tells me it’s a new experience in post-punk type record. I think they’re right…but I’d give Caribou the “Band of Horses” award for being on the verge of breaking through. There are some good tracks on this CD, and what’s more, it’s new and innovative.

You can find a legit-free download for the lead track at download.com here

Overall, half of the short album is insignificant, but Caribou shows some flashes.

The Else – High-Powered Goodness, Rich Diversion

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Ok, so it’s been out for a few months…my birthday didn’t come until this month, so I had to wait before I got this one (It’s an Indie Girl rule that TMBG cd’s that come out in the same year as my birthday must wait until my birthday before purchasing them).

So the question is, was it worth the wait? It depends on how many times you listen to it before you decide. For me, my first impression was way off. After my first run-through, I dubbed this another “Mink Car”…a notable song or two with filler.

Not so. In fact, it takes at least 3x through before you realize the greatness that is this album. To say it grows on you is an understatement. Mixed in with the usual charm and diversion that is TMBG music, Brooklyn’s Ambassadors of Love have kicked the music up about 10 notches without losing their unique style that has made them one of the greatest Indie bands of all time.

“With the Dark” is an incredibly unique song that mixes at least 4 different tunes into one cohesive masterpiece. Think “Fingertips” from Apollo 18, but all on one track and sans the “please pass the milk please” nuttiness (though, you’ve gotta love this line, “I’m getting tired of all my nautical themes / Bustin’ my pirate hump / Rockin’ my peg-leg stump”.

“Upside Down Frown” is a sarcastic and satirical look at relationships that you’ve got to hear at least 2x before you realize what John’s actually trying to say. “Bee of the Bird of the Moth” is this album’s throw-back to classic TMBG style. (For The Spine, it was “Museum of Idiots”…one of my all-time favorites).

And then there’s the usual TMBG nuttiness: “The Cap’m” is a witty ditty that lyrically reminds me of “Dr. Worm”…”People seem to think you can’t be called the cap’m unless you drive a boat/ Well, I don’t–I don’t”.

And through all of this, they maintain that unique sound. In fact, listening to it for just the second time, my 2 year old yelled out: “Giants Dad!!! Giants!”

All in all, yet another great album from TMBG.